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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Anonymous report from ANC underground

The doc prepared by the IPC sub committee dealing with the underground, while correctly stressing the need to maintain a strong underground, suffers from the unrealistic expectation that regime will actually facilitate the process.

It also argues for an underground of untrammeled authority as though there are no new realities which are ushered in by the fact of the unbanning of the movement.

The main reason why the regime wants to discuss the question of amnesty is that he will require certain undertakings from us. It is naive to think the regime will be so dumb to allow the ANC to fly in through Jan Smuts Airport to set up the machineries for insurrection which it has unsuccessfully struggled to create over the years. The regime is certainly prepared to allow all and sundry to return. But the amnesty will obviously be conditional. In other words, Joe Modise can come back without fear of prosecution. He will be allowed to participate in the activities of the legal ANC. But he cannot come back to organize MK on the ground. It should be obvious that the regime will not consent to suddenly and magnanimously reward us with advantages we have always dreamt of that the doc refers to like shorter lines of communications, more effective command and control etc. Are we not expecting too much from our enemy?

We should wake up to the fact of the new realities that exist and not harp on old practices which we have never perfected in any case.  With the legalization of the ANC the underground structures cease to play a leading role. Hitherto, the u/g has been the overall leadership of the ANC where it existed. It has indeed been the overall leadership of all other progressive formations active against apartheid. When we set up open ANC structures all political authority will be vested in them. Where underground structures existed their authority will be taken over by the newly established legal structures. There shall be no political authority that does not reside with the openly operating democratically functioning ANC. All else must flow from this.

What, therefore, becomes of the u/g.? What happens to MK?

We will attempt to dispense with the second question because it seems less complicated how the matter ought to be resolved. First, MK continues to function and to strike until such time as there is an agreed truce. The agreement for the mutual cessation of hostilities will mean:

a) MK and the regimes forces suspend attacking each other.

b) Mk and the regime's suspend preparations to do so which would involve moving personnel hardware and other logistics to favourable locations

c) Mk keeping to their present battle lines i.e. mostly in camps outside the country

d) MK cadres already inside the country remaining unmolested while they maintain the cease fire.

e) No bid is made by regime's forces to seek out the arms caches already stashed. It should be understood to the regime that we have these and that we will not put them in use unless hostilities resume.

f) Set up mechanism to monitor cease fire violations by both parties.

In relation to MK in particular, therefore, and the underground related to MK in general, any consolidation of internal forces should proceed post speed before any agreement is reached with the regime, because after that we will be bound to honour the agreements. Personnel, but most importantly hardware, should be infiltrated speedily.

The question of personnel is not as critical because despite understandings, a number of the cadres who will come in legally can play some role in the consolidation of MK structures that already exist. Because MK is unbanned, a whole range of activities which MK cadres could legally participate in exist which also offers cover for a whole range of activities that prepare us for the eventuality of a break-down in negotiations. For instance, the regime has to understand that the protection of our leadership is the task that we have to undertake as a movement. Mk has to play a central role in this. Under various guises we can begin to organize drill platoons and train formations in certain military disciplines quite legally. From the defense units of today and the marshal systems of present day mass rallies should evolve more regular, disciplined and organized contingents. From these formations we will isolate the potential for drawing into the underground MK that is sleeping in wait.

The doc makes the correct point that underground units "do not survive inactivity". Yes. But inactivity for how long? We cannot accept an indefinite ceasefire. There should be a definite period and it should not be long. During his period the only inactivity by the underground units of MK will be in the realm of physical attacks against the enemy only. Nothing prevents them from carrying out recce about the enemy and constant study to improve their combat skills, political and other knowledge. After all the enemy's forces will also be engaged in normal physical, mental and other and other training.

In a lot of cases, the underground MK cadres will be involved at different levels of the open structures of the ANC, some high profile, others not so high, depending on circumstances. So the question of inactivity really refers to occasional actions which even up to now have not occupied much of the time of the underground MK units.

Certainly the most sensitive organizational aspect of the task we have to undertake is ordnance. Its security must be the most tightly organized. Individuals or groups of two of the most highly trusted and responsible members should be charged with the responsibility for not more than one large cache.

Caches should not exceed certain quantities and be spread in different localities with different comrades in charge to avoid the discovery of more than one at the same time. If at HQ we are not grappling with this task with the urgency it deserves then we shall have failed the struggle terribly.

The possibility of the surfacing of some of the members should be settled with the regime. There is no doubt that some should surface, if only for a while. Many comrades operate underground with no cover whatsoever. They have no documents, no credible legends and sometimes do not have money, transport and places where to stay. The new situation can mean they have an opportunity to sort out some of these logistical and security problems. But this should all be planned and done with the knowledge and approval of the responsible leadership structures. The surfacing of underground cadres should not be taken as automatic or even permanent. Cadres should be prepared to return to work and stay underground completely as per instruction.

What other tasks were performed by the underground in the past and how will their prosecution proceed in the new legality?

1. The organization of the enemy's armed forces.

We have always said that work among the enemy's armed forces should be pursued by the legal mass structures through open agitation and the underground machineries through organization of units of various designation within these forces. The legalization of the ANC opens up possibilities for more rigorous activity at the open level for the organization of this work and the creation of democratic organizations within these forces. Nothing prevents us from pitching tent outside police barracks and carrying out open agitation and recruitment of these forces.

What happens underground can only constitute a small fraction of the open work that must be done to win over sections of the regime's security forces to the side of those fighting for democracy.

The secret work that has to be done relates to the recruitment and maintenance of units that have to survive a backlash and other victimization that may result from a witch hunt of progressives within these forces, and the procurement of arms supplies by MK from them. The former, though secret, is perfectly normal task. The latter should be handled very carefully and perhaps should be suspended during the time of the truce. This task must be undertaken by MK.

2. The organization of Intelligence and Security

All political organization have a right to pursue these tasks. Therefore, while they are secret they are not illegal. Even big business organizes its own int & sec. These specialized and highly sensitive tasks will not fall under some "underground" leadership. Many of its operatives will naturally remain unknown and an efficient system of communications command and control will have to be devised to protect the apparatus. So while most of its members will be operating clandestinely, they are responsible to the overt political leadership through certain select members of that leadership, and their existence is taken for granted by the general membership. It should not be known who of the leadership is responsible for these tasks. Since they are engaged in gathering data about the security of all members, this structure will have some links with the underground MK which should be warned of any infiltration, danger of discovery, or other plans by the enemy against it.

The organization of safe houses, communications, safe meeting places, telephones etc could be some of the activities of the security apparatus.  Generally, the leadership should determine the precise tasks of the clandestine structures.

Funding for the clandestine activities of the ANC will therefore be quite normal and justified, although the system of accounting will be different from that of the open structures for security reasons.

The organization of underground propaganda press.  This also does not warrant the existence of underground leadership bodies.  Individuals can be assigned by the legal structures to operate underground printing press known only to themselves and the select leadership.

In other words, all structures of the movement, as we move to legality, should proceed with the knowledge that things can change for the worse, and that we should not show the enemy all that we have and all that we are doing. But this will not mean that there are parallel structures of the ANC and ANC underground.  Some of the legitimate activities of the legal ANC will however be hidden from public view.

What is our guarantee that we will be able to continue the struggle if negotiations fail or there is a backlash?

Firstly, we have to keep a reserve of our forces and their leadership outside.  If we do not do this we will have disarmed ourselves and laid ourselves open to manipulation. MK is presently basically an army still based outside. To move everybody into the country would be tantamount to dismantling Umkhonto we Sizwe, because when they come here they will be coming as mere ANC members.

Civilians as it were. And we do not have a strong internal MK presence.  Therefore the MK outside is our big leverage.  It is not easy to ask people to continue to stay in exile when the rest are coming back home. But it is a sacrifice some will have to continue making for the duration of the negotiations process. Incentives will have to be offered to those comrades who will have to remain behind. They should also be kept very busy with upgrading courses and not just face prospects of leaving endlessly in camps.

We need to have a comprehensive plan for the possibility of a reneging enemy.  We should be able to rescue most of our leadership from arrest or death into safety. There must be a plan which will be known only to a few who will take part in its execution when the need arises.

Individual members should be encouraged to exercise maximum vigilance. Our security system should be highly in tune. And those members who are earmarked to participate in the underground should circumstances dictate, should have contingency retreat bases, and all contact arrangements worked out for the eventuality. Maximum vigilance is called for as we enter this uncertain period.

Our MK units on the ground should also be on full alert for any turnabout by the regime and be ready to inflict such telling blows as will compel the regime to sue for peace the minute he breaks it.

Although MK is our leverage, the masses will remain our principal guarantor that the regime does not attempt to wriggle out of agreements and act in bad faith. The masses are the insurance that the regime will proceed with haste to work for the solution of the problems of the country that would take the country to the other side of apartheid. Only the militant masses rallying behind a militant African National Congress that dutifully pursues their interests and agitates them into action against repression will ensure that those locked in dialogue proceed with haste to address the problems of the land. The interlocutors should be charged to urgency by the din of the masses outside banging doors and demanding change. This is not the time for temporizing with the regime. The ANC should lead the masses in a massive, disciplined but resolute and final active protest against the policies of the Nats. Our entry into the legal political should aim not just at galvanizing support for our policies and netting membership which will make us the biggest opposition to the racist regime. It should be to spur these organized masses to march in struggle at the head of all other anti-apartheid forces.

Harmful trends begin to appear these days of people trying to outdo each other for moderation in the mass media. Our reasonableness and our commitment to peaceful change and even negotiations should never be construed as a signal to the masses to end protest and struggle against their oppression. This process must in fact intensify a hundred-fold. We should of course try to call for discipline. But only by our active presence in people's protests and struggles will the leadership ensure that acts of anarchy, vandalism and provocation are brought to a minimum. If our active masses will only see us on television they will not heed our calls. Because most of them do not have television.

Those among us who will make it a habit of appearing to attempt appeasement of the masses are in danger of being overtaken by events.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.